Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Zibanejad And Lee Bring It In The Clutch

It was one of those dreaded pre-season games where both teams barely showed a pulse for 60 minutes but rookie hopeful Mika Zibanejad buried a perfect cross-ice feed from Brian Lee behind a flailing Tuuka Rask for the overtime winner, sending a somewhat sparse and antsy crowd home on a high-note.

It wasn't the prettiest game to watch, and for a while it looked like none of the young players on the Senators were really advancing their cause over one another, but there were some performances that began to stand out as the night wore on.

Of the forwards, Erik Condra had the best overall effort after sitting against Toronto on Monday. It was fitting that he was wearing Chris Kelly's old #22 on the back of his sweater because Condra was doing a lot of the same things Kelly used to do in Ottawa, except faster and more aggressively. I don't know what it is about Condra that I like so much but to me he's just a born hockey player - good at just about everything and the most well rounded young player the Senators have except for possibly Colin Greening (and likely Zibanejad soon enough).

It was clear that coach Paul MacLean liked what Condra was doing as the winger played almost 20 minutes and was a buzzsaw every single shift.

Peter Regin was solid again (he and Condra were both crowding Rask when Lee scored Ottawa's first goal) and Nikita Filatov showed some flashes of speed and hands even though it's clear he needs to bear down with the puck more in the offensive zone (as opposed to what his early critics are pointing to and that's his play in his own end, which was just fine by the way - more on that later). Filatov didn't seem to handle having two Bruins in coming at him when he had the puck just past the blueline and he bobbled it during a few offensive chances which petered out. Still, he has lots of time to get a little more confidence as he gets comfortable. Not since Martin Havlat have the Senators had a player who will be able to bring fans out of their seats in one quick blaze of speed and hands. He's only going to get better if everyone is patient.

Stephane Da Costa was sneaky good again, showing that same skill and patience he had in spades during the rookie tournament. He's a bit like a waterbug out there, cutting into dangerous parts of the slot with the puck and never really getting his head taken off. I have to say his playmaking skills are a complete surprise to me but he can also wire the puck. He's a bit unpredictable and he looks like he could play in the NHL right now.

And of course, Zibanejad. Like the first pre-season game, he struggled with faceoffs and sometimes looked nervous out there. But then he does things like take the puck around a defenseman by putting it between his feet as he cuts around to the net for a backhand (which he didn't get off), or putting a laser beam by Rask which is not an easy thing to do, even for veteran NHL goal scorers. He ended up with a very quiet 5 shots on goal, second only to Da Costa's 6.

It's going to be so close whether he goes back to Sweden or not. If he could put together a couple of games where he's more of a consistent presence, he could be here to stay and someone like Nick Foligno could be in trouble because of it.

Not much to discuss as far as defenseman go. Brian Lee played a great game obviously although I've rarely seen a defenseman take so much physical abuse on the ice. I don't know what it is about Lee but people love to hurt this guy and I thought Lee got a little shaky late in the game before recovering and making that huge play to Zibanejad for the goal. Lee has certainly put his name back into the hat and may end up sticking around anyways if David Rundblad needs some time in the AHL, a likely scenario.


…. Great to hear Shean Donovan on the pre-game shows this pre-season. No offense to Mike Eastwood, who’s a smart hockey analyst, but Donovan is a little less grumpy in that role, and he’s got that “aw-shucks” demeanour that actually works quite well amidst the more sarcastic takes of Bruce Garrioch and Gord Wilson. But clearly Donovan knows what he's talking about and once he gets going, a lot of hockey experience comes to the front. There’s a good balance and chemistry on that show right now. Hopefully the Team 1200 keeps using Donovan throughout the season…..Quite a lengthy breakdown after the first period on the TSN panel on what went wrong with the Cory Clouston led Senators. Aaron Ward went on the record saying that he was once rumoured to be going to Ottawa in a trade but desperately didn't want to go because he had heard too many bad things about Clouston. Bob McKenzie also said the Senators were basically split down the middle - those who didn't like Clouston personally and those who didn't like his system. Wow. At least Marc Crawford stuck up for poor Cory at the end but the toothpaste was already out of the tube you could say.....

…..Welcome to Ottawa kid. It only took a single exhibition game for one of the guys on the Team 1200 Sportscall show to paint Nikita Filatov as a player who doesn’t work hard on defense and won’t be able to follow coach Paul MacLean’s system. It was also said there was little hope of the youngster changing anytime soon, if ever. Which is strange, because I watched Filatov carefully in the game against the Leafs on Monday night and it looked to me like Filatov was skating hard into his own zone and backchecking every time he didn’t have the puck. His legs always seemed to be moving and he played an overall positive game with two assists. In fact, he was one of the best players on the ice. Then this morning they were giving it to Filatov again, this time on the morning show, suggesting that Francis Lessard cleaned out Filatov in a scrimmage yesterday because Filatov is “too cool for school”. Really? Are we doing this again Ottawa? After one exhibition game? How many times do we need to go down this path? Do we always need one player to rip apart mercilessly all season long for imagined slights against the hockey gods (ie. not being a humble fourth liner with a lunch pail in your hand)? If you want to rip the kid, fine, but at least give him a month into the season before you bury him. Now I’ve become more understanding over the years to the realities of sports talk radio, realizing these guys have to fill multiple hours with talk that engages fans and they’re paid to have opinions whether you agree with them or not. I get that and I try not to jump up and down in disbelief like I used to on this blog, knowing they have a tougher job than I do. I wouldn’t be able to do it half as well, so take my opinion as you will. But after just one exhibition game? Come on guys.....

.....I've been looking for an excuse to show some obscure Bobby Orr collectibles I've come across lately and with the Boston Bruins in town, that's a good enough reason. If you click on the image to see the details better, you'll notice those freakishly long twigs are "Fully Jointed Bendable Legs". It also claims the figurine is in the "Boston Bruins Official Uniform". Uh, not even close , but it's rad anyways.

A rare image of Orr doing endorsements in a Chicago Blackhawks uni. I'm guessing this pinball machine would be worth a tidy sum in 2011.

Bobby Orr lemonade. Could you imagine Sidney Crosby lemonade in 2011? No. You can't.

The NHL lunch box was a treasured item when I was a kid. I had a Gretzky one but this Orr model is about as perfect as you can get.

If you want to see more vintage Bobby Orr stuff like this, check out the very rad of which one or two of these images are from.....

……I’ve spent the first 35 years of my life not drinking coffee and shaking my head at all the addicts around me. Now, for some random reason, I’ve become a complete addict this summer (think Will Ferrell in Kicking and Screaming). Suddenly, I totally get it. I can sit and write 5000 words with the power of a couple cups of coffee. I feel like I’ve wasted so much time on the sidelines of life with a decaf tea in my hand…..Geez, everyone is having a good laugh over the Semyon Varlamov trade which landed the Caps a first rounder from the Avalanche. But Varlamov is a hell of a good goalie prospect. The price was high but he could end up being the franchise goalie for that team for the next ten years or more. I bet he surprises some of the naysayers this year…..

…. Been reading quite a bit about possible realignment for next season with the Winnipeg Jets expected to move to the West and it’s interesting to try and predict what the NHL will do here. To me, you have to let Detroit come to the East ahead of Columbus and especially Nashville who reside in the Central Time zone to start with. There’s also lots of talk about going with two divisions in each conference, one with 8 teams and one with 7 per conference. If they do that, here’s how I think it could and probably should end up:


Division 1

1. Ottawa

2. Montreal

3. Toronto

4. Boston

5. Detroit

6. Buffalo

7. Philadelphia

Division 2

1. NY Rangers

2. NY Islanders

3. New Jersey

4. Washington

5. Pittsburgh

6. Carolina

7. Tampa Bay

8. Florida


Division 3

1. Winnipeg

2. Minnesota

3. Chicago

4. St. Louis

5. Columbus

6. Dallas

7. Nashville

Division 4

1. Vancouver

2. Calgary

3. Edmonton

4. Phoenix

5. Colorado

6. Los Angeles

7. San Jose

8. Anaheim

Basically, everyone is working in their own time zones divisionally in this scenario with the exception of Columbus who are in the EST but will be playing CST teams. But it’s impossible to please everyone with so many teams clustered in the East and franchises spread all around the vast West, so one or two teams will have to take what they’re given. The Red Wings deserve the first opportunity to move East because of their history and status as compared to recent expansion franchises like Nashville and Columbus. It’s also strange to see the Flyers and the Penguins playing in different divisions but the Penguins have a strong rivalry with the Caps as well and that can be exploited better going forward. One solution might be to drop Buffalo from Division 1 and switch with the Penguins so all the New York based teams can play against each other and keep the Pennsylvania rivalry intact. Also, those uneven divisions are just crying out for an expansion team for each conference. The NHL might be having visions of big-time expansion fees in the coming decade to round out the league at 32 teams. Quebec City or a second Toronto team in the East? KC or Seattle in the West? I used to be strongly opposed to more expansion, but I’m not as firm as I was before. Expansion can lead to more scoring in the NHL because talent gets diluted and the dominant players will be having those extra shifts against guy who would otherwise be playing in the AHL. That’s not a perfect theory however as recent expansion did little or nothing to boost scoring. It worked in the 80’s when the WHA folded and merged with the NHL. Many feel a dilution of talent necessarily means a dilution in the product but it’s conceivable it could have the opposite effect.

Till next time...


Peter Raaymakers said...

People are railing on Filatov already? It's bad enough that it's just been two pre-season games, but even worse, he's been pretty awesome in both those games. I don't get the negativity.

Jeremy Milks said...

I don't get it either, but it's not like we couldn't see it coming. The kid might have to play perfect to get any cred here.

Anonymous said...

I get it, but I am a cynic.

If you're skilled you're going to get it from the fanbase. Rundblad has been getting it too because he curled away from a hit and tossed the puck away. People in this town want hard-nosed, two-way, gritty, never say die guys that they can have a beer with and so on.

Call it the "DOUGEEE GILMOOOOOOOOOOOOOORE!1!!!" factor, Ottawa-style and it's amplified by the media, who need to fill airspace. Roy MacGregor has written a fantastic article about this called: "In Bureaucratic Ottawa, Creativity is a No-No." Basically, he said that since so many of us got to jobs where we can't use our own imagination and creativity in cubicle-land, we lash out at guys like Spezza, Karlsson, Rundblad, Filatov et al. since they have that liberty.
Ottawa also being a deeply cynical and petty city doesn't help thing.

Hey, the first time Filatov drops the gloves the town will love him. Until then, you're the new contestant on:

"You're the whipping boy!"

(Sorry if this is a double post, didn't see a CAPTCHA code)

Anonymous said...

anon @ 12:14am

I'm born and raised in Ottawa. The place you describe is not the Ottawa that I grew up in.

Are there cynics? Sure, just like anywhere else. But, I don't see how you can paint the whole city with one brush.

You'll never hear me lashing out at Spezza, Filatov, Karlsson, or Rundblad for their creativity. I love that part about sports.

Whether it's a pretty pass, a beautiful goal, a slam dunk, an acrobatic catch or throw, or anything thing else that I'm not capable of doing ... I want to see it.

It's all inspiring and uplifting. I'm sure that I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we just had different environments around us. Being in government offices my whole life, being around politics my whole life even around my friends when we get together it's a huge bitch-fest and whine-fest about everything from the Senators to local politics and so on.

It's just exacerbated by the media and so on...this is a town that loves to see people fail. Remember when Alanis sang the anthem and "we" booed her?

I mean, I get that each individual has their own perceptions but look at the people people have piled on here:

*Alanis Morrissette, she left Ottawa for a career.
*Paul Anka, people screamed when it was suggested he help out around the Senators.
*Eugene Melnyk has taken it from Ottawans.

And for the hockey players, look at the goats:
*Yashin (justifiably so in some cases), skill guy.
*Spezza, skill guy.
*Kovalev, skill guy.
*Karlsson, skill guy.
*Filatove, skill guy.
*Rundblad, skill guy.

Now look at the people that have been elevated in status in this town:

*Bob Chiareilli, carrer politico, boring.
*Lowell Green (yeah, I know), not much of an education but local area guy that talks tough.
*Alfredsson, tireless worker and two-way player
*Fisher (people cried when he left) and Kelly, grinding, character, hard-working guys.
*Brian Kilrea, smart hockey man and hard worker.
*Shean Donovan, another guy without that much skill that is endearing.

The list goes on and on. People in this town are wary of skill, talent and "outside the box" thinking. They like hard work, VISIBLE hard work is even better and grinding, gritty, dirt under the fingernails etc.

Heck, I remember people attacking the Cowplands in the media a while back.

Your perception of the degree of cynicism probalby related to either age (if you've lived here 30-40 years you'll see it) or just being outside the usual government/politics megabox.

Jeremy covered this very well in his Edmonton East column...

Michael said...

Bobby Orr Power Play pinball machines show up on occasion on eBay, condition varies, but expect to pay $750-1500 for one of them.

Hockey fans may think it's valuable but pinball aficionados think on different terms.

For some strange reason a whack of them got sold in Australia. Chances are you'll find one there, but shipping will hurt.

Michael said...

And guess what!